Leaders in the field of gender equality gathered in London earlier this week for the second annual Trust Women conference, organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International New York Times and co-sponsored by the EBRD for the second year running.
True to the Bank’s commitment to promoting gender equality, EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti delivered a keynote address on the topic of women’s empowerment in the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region that drew widespread acclaim from conference participants and attendees alike.
The topic was especially relevant in the wake of a poll released by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in November that declared Egypt as the worst state in the Arab world for women after prevalent high rates of sexual harassment and female genital mutilation and a resurgence in post-Arab Spring violence and Islamist sentiment.
In the same poll, Morocco was named the eighth-best, Tunisia the sixth and Jordan the fourth-best country in the region for women.
Women’s economic empowerment does not exist within a bubble, Sir Suma argued; it is inextricable from the other issues addressed during the conference, including slavery, supply chains, trafficking, gender-based violence and the right to healthcare.
“As an international financial institution, [the EBRD is] committed to the promotion of inclusive societies in emerging Arab democracies,” Sir Suma said at the conference. “We do not think that a functioning market-economy based on democratic principles is possible without equal rights and opportunities for women.”
Lack of access to finance and employment opportunities are among the main reasons preventing women from achieving gender parity in the SEMED region, and women’s labour force participation is the lowest worldwide despite high levels of education, a phenomenon known as the MENA paradox.
Sir Suma also stressed that gender equality is an issue of concern for both genders, a theme made evident by the fact that nearly one fourth of the conference’s speakers were men.
“I believe men play an important role in eliminating gender inequality,” Sir Suma said in his speech. “We need to help today’s men and boys to gain a better understanding of the benefits for all of the importance of gender equality and women’s rights in the economy and the rest of society.”
His speech preceded a plenary session entitled “Women’s rights in the Arab world: Has spring turned into winter?”, which focused on Egypt, Tunisia and Syria and featured an impassioned discussion by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, Tunisian human rights activist Amira Yahyaoui, British-Syrian doctor Rola Hallam and Volker Türk, Director of International Protection of the UNHCR.
The panellists highlighted the paradox of women’s rights regressing in the wake of the Arab Spring despite a long and storied history of their active participation in state building, politics and the development of democracy and also noted the obvious connections between women’s economic, social and political empowerment, as did Sir Suma in his speech.
“We support women’s economic empowerment and see it as inextricably linked to their social and political empowerment,” he said. “We do so to help them become independent and ensure their voices are heard and their rights are respected. Like their peers in other countries, women in the region deserve to live in a society where they can be agents of their own destiny.”
The EBRD also sponsored 10 scholarships for participants from our region of operations to attend the conference. Head of Gender Michaela Bergman and Senior Gender Adviser Elena Ferreras Carreras met with the scholarship recipients to discuss the Bank’s Strategic Gender Initiative and establish a dialogue between the EBRD and the recipients’ respective organisations.
“Through the EBRD’s support of Trust Women, we had the opportunity to hear first-hand from experts on some of the wider issues impacting women in our region and to both learn and to participate in the debate as to how these might be addressed in our work,” Bergman said.
Given Trust Women’s commitment to developing concrete solutions speakers are asked to present specific action plans that directly address a problem facing women around the world.
This year the Bank committed to working with Verité, an American non-profit firm dedicated to promoting safe working conditions and fair wages for workers, to help reduce debt-bondage among its clients’ migrant labourers through prevention, mitigation, training and transparency efforts.
The following are the winners of the EBRD scholarship:
Jenny Montasir, Documentary Filmmaker, HarassMap
HarassMap's mission is to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt—one of the most pervasive and pressing issues that Egyptian women face today. The organization uses mobile and online technology for members of the public to easily report cases of sexual harassment and assault. Each submission receives a response with information about legal assistance, psychological counseling and self defence classes. The reports are aggregated onto a map that steers HarassMap's offline campaigns in 16 governorates across Egypt. For these campaigns, volunteers work directly in communities to establish neighbourhood Safe Zones, to educate the public and encourage intervention against harassment in the street.
Amany Eid, Women & Family Program Manager, Misr El Kheir
MEK is a small non-profit organization, working in economic development since 2007 in Upper Egypt and North Sinai. The Women & Family Program provides health services; literacy, ICT, financial and vocational training; and entrepreneurship and micro-finance training for its participants. Recently, the program also started a political rights training program.
Maysoun Odeh Gangat, Director, NISAA Broadcasting Radio Company
RADIO NISAA FM is the first women-owned, women-focused radio station in Palestine, providing the region with entertainment and music, headline local and regional news, and talk shows dealing with women’s rights issues. Maysoun Odeh Gangat, a Jordanian national, was also a Finalist for the 2013 Trust Women Hero Award, after being nominated by 3 separate organizations, a record for the year.
Buthaina Aburoza, Administrative Officer, UNRWA
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East provides assistance and protection for Palestine refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. UNRWA human development and humanitarian services encompass primary and vocational education, primary health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict.
Gabriela Flores, Communications Consultant, Norwegian Refugee Council
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is a non-profit organisation which provides assistance, protection and durable solutions to refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide. NRC promotes and protects the rights of people who have been forced to flee their countries, or their homes within their countries.
Jackie Maalouf, Founder and President, Dialeb
The National Diabetes Organization, DiaLeb is a small Lebanese non- profit organization founded in 2011 which aims to promote diabetes care and prevention and support research in search for a cure. To do so, DiaLeb works to promote healthy lifestyles and spread awareness about diabetes in order to make living with the disease more manageable for all those affected and their families.
Samar Minallah, Director, Ethnomedia
Ethnomedia uses various forms of media to advocate and raise awareness against violence against women and other key issues in Pakistan.
Katherine Mulville, Executive Director, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights
WGNRR is a membership network of over 1000 grassroots organisations worldwide, working in order to empower women to directly engage in advocacy and campaigning on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues.